Man killed in explosion while burning debris in Cleveland Co. - | WBTV Charlotte


Man killed in explosion while burning debris in Cleveland Co.

(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)

Douglas Mullins was holding a piece of wire in his hand Thursday afternoon that he just could not bear to let go. It was all that was left of a handle from a bucket his father-in-law was holding just an hour before.

"It's the last thing he had in his hands before it happened," said Mullins. 

What happened was an explosion that took the life of 61-year-old Dennis Thornton. He had been outside his daughter's home burning debris. 

Two fires were going and Mullins says Dennis was using a flammable liquid in that bucket, "To keep them stoked."

Mullins believes it was gasoline, but authorities said it might have been paint thinner. In either case, it was trouble, said Fire Marshal Perry Davis.

"When you throw a flammable liquid onto a burning fire it can explode and catch you on fire," Davis said.

That is what happened to Thornton, he believes. 

Thornton's daughter heard the explosion, saw her father engulfed in flames and called for help, but it was too late. 
"Just a tragic accident," said Davis. 

Flammable liquids are often used in debris burning operations, he said, but liquids such as paint thinners and gasoline are the wrong things to use.

"Diesel fuel is much better," he said.

One important note about that though, according to Davis, is never to put the liquid on a fire that is already burning.

"If you plan to use a flammable liquid, always put it on the debris before starting the fire," he said.

The Thornton family hopes the tragedy will alert others to the dangers. Even so, it does not ease the pain they are feeling now, they said. 

Losing Dennis will not be easy to come to grips with, said Mullins, adding, "He was the glue that held this family together."

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